Thursday, February 21, 2008

Who's that yonder, dressed in red?

A few days ago, I allowed Facebook access to my e-address book to find people that I might want to "friend."

Unexpectedly, my ex-husband popped up. I've had the same email address since I was 16 so maybe that shouldn't have surprised me. But one of my first thoughts was, "It would be a bad idea to look at his profile." Although I navigated away from that page, I ignored my own advice and searched for him by name this time and got another unpleasant surprise when a picture of his new wife (the woman he had an affair with) popped up. Moral of the story: listen to the voices in your head.

However, the second thought that came into my head was, "Wow, sometimes I totally forget that he continues to exist."

He is a piece of my past. Stuck in time as that guy who once caused me a lot of pain, taught me a lot of stuff, made me laugh and ultimately set me free from my unhappy life. The memories of him no longer elicit much emotion.

My unhappiness was not entirely of his creation, although it would be nice to be able to blame it on him. Out of my love for him, I compromised my life goals and created a suburban life for myself. I think this is very normal. My priorities put family above anything else so at 20 years old, this was easy to do. If I had been older, I would have realized that a man that couldn't get excited about my desire to live out my faith in Christ by living in the city was not the right man to marry. But I wasn't older.

So, in addition to the growing unhappiness I was feeling because of the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing - believing that my husband loved me and was being honest with me while at the same time discovering example after example of his lies - I was also growing unhappy with the meaninglessness of my life in the suburbs. I remember test-driving a tattoo by drawing it on my arm with marker because I thought that it would make me different from the other suburban moms at outdoor summer birthday parties. Despite the absolute lack of children, I was already dreading the sites ahead on the road I was traveling.

On Wednesday night, I ushered and got to see Othello at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre with my new friend, Cole.

We discovered a mutual love of food courts (the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is located at Navy Pier) and as I ate my gyros and she denied my attempts to share it with her when her panini was unsatisfactory, I began to tell a story about how my little brother had told me that I wasn't cool enough to go to a party at a bar called Hideout. In the story, I referenced the time period it took place as "when I was a suburban housewife."

It turns out that I couldn't finish the story because she was laughing too hard. As she regained her capacity for speech, she communicated that she was delighted at the incongruity of the person she has gotten to know recently and a person who could be described as a suburban housewife. She said she never would have expected it. If I had told her I traveled the world, that would make sense.

Because I am a total ham, I played up the joke, describing the outfit I had worn to that party: a light blue merino, wool sweater with gingerbread men broaches that my students had given, worn over the 40 pounds that I lost after the divorce.

We kept going back to the subject and her laughter created such a joy in me. I fed her more details about that life: how I was a recreational shopper with not a day going by that I didn't stop and accumulate some other thing for the house or our wardrobes.

I built the picket fence for my house.

I wore denim jumpers.

I scrapbooked.

She was dying. In fact, when we went to Hideout last night, she made me re-tell the story to her friend, who responded similarly.

This makes me realize that a lot of people look at me in disbelief when I talk about my early twenties.

I am a different person now than the person I was then. Like my ex-husband, she is a piece of my past. Stuck in time as that girl who once loved naively and fiercely. Who believed that someone really did complete her. Who used to get so frustrated and tense about minor violations to her sense that she was entitled to a life that was "fair." (I'm a still a little embarrassed by how little and material the "unfair" things were compared to my reactions.) The memories of this girl no longer elicit much identification or empathy.

And this is deliberate. Once I was set loose from my marriage with the force and pain of a cork popping from a bottle of champagne, I said to myself, "I don't want to be the type of woman who calls her husband The Asshole the rest of her life." We all know that woman and no one is ever really comfortable around her. So, I acted like I WAS kind and forgiving and balanced even when I very definitely wasn't. I've worked hard with my counselor for the last 5 years to look at myself in the unflattering fluorescent light of therapy to root out other vestiges of self-defensive insecurities and selfishnesses. I've done scary social things to build community and love others who haven't had the luck to be free enough to do this soul work.

I'm not perfect but being able to acknowledge that imperfection on a daily basis is the best sign I can see that I have become someone new.

I am proud of myself for looking at my life and changing what I did not like. Elizabeth Gilbert compares personal growth to an acorn and an oak tree. Half of the work of growing is done by the acorn but the other half is done by the oak tree it is going to become, who pulls it forward so that it attains the growth necessary for the oak tree to actually exist. Sweet Honey in the Rock says before they sing, "Wade in the water children; God's gonna trouble the water," that "if you want change in your life and there's a storm, walk in to it. When you get to the other side, you will be changed." I am glad that something in my hurting heart looked at that storm of my divorce and walked straight into the heart of it rather than trying to skirt the edge and get around it. I may only be able to see that courage from the vantage point of a totally different person; certainly it didn't seem like courage to me then, only like the only option I had for making sure the pain didn't last forever. But I look back with awe and bewilderment at that little girl-wife who grew up to be me.

And I laugh and laugh and laugh in delight with my friend Nicole about the woman that I have become.


Saha said...

I came to your blog via Baraka. This post made me chuckle as with me it's kind of the other way around! I am a suburban housewife, whereas I used to be a fiercely independent funky art student (tongue in cheek)!
It also made me sad, because I have been 'the other woman' and I hate to hear your hurt, because it is indicative of the hurt of everyone who has been cheated or betrayed in some way.
and then it made me feel inspired, because I have felt the numbness that comes from falling into living for someone else and also the joy of growing into your self again.

PrincessMax said...


Thank you for spelling out so specifically your response to my post. Your feeling of recognition is why I write. When I was an undergrad, Maya Angelou came to speak to the English majors. She said, "If it takes me and reminds me what it's like to be human - to be lonely, happy, in love, in like - I know I'm in the presence of art." Whether you meant it or not, I hear you telling me that I'm creating art. I that's a high calling.


Emily DeWan Photography said...

I'm with your friend Cole in finding it very difficult to imagine you as a former suburban housewife, so starting to explore your blog has been fascinating to me.
I should head back to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre; I also used to usher there.